Red and Blue Heelers are known throughout the world, prized for their work as cattle drovers. It is not uncommon for those outside the realm of kennel clubs to not recognize this breed as the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD). Still bred in many countries and regions for their working ability rather than a standard the name Heeler is fitting, even without the Red or Blue based on coat color.
Many are surprised when they learn that Australia is home to a second heeler, this one far overshadowed by its ‘cousin’. The Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (ASTCD) is sometimes confused as a docked ACD, but in fact they are both separate breeds. Even if they share a muddled history.
Like many dogs, the ancestry of the ACD (and the ASTCD) is debated. It is said Dingoes, Bull Terriers, Dalmatians, Kelpies, and Collies all exist within its makeup. In reality, this is a simplified answer. Kelpies were still in development themselves at the time and the collies used were a type, not a specific breed as we know them today. The Bull Terrier and Dalmatian were each a single outcross, and some have argued if the Dalmatian is but legend. But the Dingo, they are the one certainty.
The history of the ACD begins in the early 1800s when the Hall family arrived in Australia. Their son Thomas took working European collies and crossed them with the native Dingoes. He needed strong drovers capable of working long hours over rough terrain and in a harsh climate. It is said he used collies that were blue merles in these early stages, but this is likely speculation due to the modern ACD’s coat. Hall would have either chosen dogs based on their working qualities or those that accompanied livestock across the sea.
Hall was decisive with his bloodline and by the 1840s the Hall’s Heeler was breeding true. A tough cattle dog that nipped at the heels of its charges, capable of long, endless days across the outback. A shrewd businessman Hall recognized that his dogs gave him an advantage over his competition and therefore his heelers were rarely sold. Only family and those with close business ties could obtain one.
This changed after Hall’s death in 1870. As his estate was dispersed, his dogs were purchased by other ranchers. It was then that the additional outcrosses took place by breeds recognized under their modern names. The Bull Terrier was added for tenacity and although considered a failure, it was impossible to strip it from their makeup. The Dalmatian gave them a stronger bond with their masters, but decreased some of their working drive. Since Kelpies were becoming fixed during this time and it is likely both shared bloodlines even before specific crosses were made.
So where does the ASTCD come in? Looking remarkably like the ACD the ancestry of the ASTCD has two main theories. The first is that they too descend from the Hall’s Heeler, but split (either before or after Hall’s death). A more popular theory is that their ancestor is another cattle dog strain known as Timmon's Biter.
The Timmon’s Biter was a hard working cattle dog, but rough with its charges. Too rough, as sometimes the cattle were even killed. This was blamed on too much Dingo in their bloodline, so later breeds were added to soften their drive. Exactly when any of this took place is unclear. Some authors have stated the Timmon’s Biter was used to create the Hall’s Heeler, while others credit Hall with giving Timmon his early dogs for breeding. Irregardless, it is a near certainty that the Hall’s Heeler, Timmon’s Biter, ACD and ASTCD were all interrelated.
Unless extensive DNA testing is done on both the ACD and ASTCD we will never know how close the two are linked. However, they have been separate lines for at least a century. The ASTCD is rarely seen outside Australia, and even in their homeland they are primarily kept as working stock dogs rather than as companions.
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